CWH’s mission is to advance the health and sustainability of our region’s watersheds through inclusive stakeholder engagement. This means that much of our work directly involves the communities in which we work. At CWH, we believe that science belongs to everyone, regardless of age, training or background. Traditionally called “citizen” science, CWH has been compelled in recent times to switch to a more inclusive term - “community” science - to describe science practiced by nonprofessionals. Following the example set by Audubon and the Natural History Museum, CWH believes that the word “citizen” carries implications about who can participate in collaborative science which is contrary to our standards of inclusivity and diversity. We have worked collectively to build capacity around water issues and to engage Los Angeles’ diverse communities with nature in our watersheds. We recognize a unique opportunity to empower watershed stewards with the science that informs our projects. Relatedly, CWH believes that all community members should feel welcome to practice science and that there is truly a role for everyone to get involved. Keep reading to learn more about community science and how YOU can get involved this summer!
What is Community Science?
Community science is the collective and active participation of volunteers gathering data for scientific research. Community science allows people to become more engaged in their communities by observing and learning about their surroundings, while simultaneously dissolving preconceptions about who a scientist is and the barriers which traditionally keep everyone from participating. A community scientist is any person who makes observations about their surroundings and decides to share it. Nowadays, with technology like smartphones, it is possible for nearly anybody to contribute to scientific knowledge.
Since it is impossible for scientists to go out and collect all the information there is to know about our environments, scientists can rely on members of the general public for help. Research projects of many disciplines enlist community science because it greatly increases data processing capacity. For example, information collected by community scientists can be used to build databases that can help inform professional scientists with their research. In fact, entirely new species have been documented thanks to community scientists - like a new poisonous frog discovered in Colombia in 2013, and a water beetle discovered in Malaysia this year which was named after Leonardo DiCaprio.
Pictured, left: Frog Andinobates cassidyhornae discovered by a community scientist in Colombia. Photo published in Adolfo Amézquita et al. 2013. (photos © 2012 L. Mazariegos)
Pictured, right: Water beetlle, Grouvellinus leonardodicaprioi, discovered in Malaysia by community scientists. Photograph: Iva Njunjić/Hendrik Freitag
Additionally, the City Nature Challenge last month identified 100 species in the Los Angeles area which had never been recorded on iNaturalist before! When practiced by the general public, science is expanded to better involve, inform and serve all people. Through collaborative science and communication, we are able to advance our collective knowledge and improve our understanding of the world.
Get Involved in Community Science
In April of this year, we asked kids from Elysian Heights Elementary to help us gather data about the wildlife living around green infrastructure at Marsh Park. This Bioblitz event showed us that even grade-school children can make very effective data gatherers and community scientists! A hobby like bird-watching can also become community science - it only requires that the individual makes an intentional observation about their surroundings and shares it. You can participate in community science by taking pictures of the native and non-native animal and plant species that you see in parks, measuring rainfall in your own backyard, or helping researchers identify photo specimens. There are a collection of apps and websites that make it easy to get involved...
iNaturalist is an interactive photography-based community science app, sort of like social media for naturalists. Anyone can inventory nature by posting photos and locations of organisms they come across. The app allows you to engage with other naturalists and learn about where species are occurring. To get more information and recordings in specific places, iNaturalist is used for specific projects called “Bioblitzes”. Users can upload a photo directly to a project by searching for it and hitting join before uploading an observation.
Ready to get started? Download the app on your phone or visit inaturalist.org to make an account. Then join the fun by participating in these Biolitzes hosted by the Natural History Museum!